Christianity 201

September 22, 2022

Keeping the Sabbath – Part Two – Sabbath

by Clarke Dixon

Guess what I did last Sunday after telling the story about mowing the lawn on a Sunday. I mowed the lawn. A blatant disregard for the rules? Should I feel guilty? Is the Sabbath a day for going on a guilt trip whenever you do anything?

In reading the New Testament with fresh eyes we may be challenged in how we view the Sabbath. Let us take a look at what we do and do not find.

We do not find the apostles telling the Jesus followers who came from a non-Jewish background to keep the Jewish Sabbath when given the perfect opportunity to do so. At the Council of Jerusalem as recorded in Acts 15 the apostles came together to discern if people needed to become Jews in order to become Christians. Here is what they wrote:

For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay no greater burden on you than these few requirements: You must abstain from eating food offered to idols, from consuming blood or the meat of strangled animals, and from sexual immorality. If you do this, you will do well. Farewell.

Acts 15:28-29 (NLT)

Each of the things listed to not do relates to worship practices that were common in the Roman world. You would expect that if keeping the Sabbath as the Jews did was to be a necessary religious practice of the non-Jewish Christian, it would have been listed as something to do.

We do not find Paul, who calls himself the apostle to the non-Jews, putting an emphasis on Sabbath keeping. In fact we find a hint of him doing quite the opposite in his letter to the Galatians:

You are trying to earn favor with God by observing certain days or months or seasons or years. I fear for you. Perhaps all my hard work with you was for nothing. Dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to live as I do in freedom from these things, for I have become like you Gentiles—free from those laws.

Galatians 4:10-12 (NLT)

Some think that “observing certain days” includes keeping the Sabbath in the strict manner as the Pharisees commended. Here Paul is commending freedom instead.

What we do find is Jesus appealing to the use of wisdom in keeping the Sabbath:

One Sabbath day Jesus went to eat dinner in the home of a leader of the Pharisees, and the people were watching him closely. There was a man there whose arms and legs were swollen. Jesus asked the Pharisees and experts in religious law, “Is it permitted in the law to heal people on the Sabbath day, or not?” When they refused to answer, Jesus touched the sick man and healed him and sent him away. Then he turned to them and said, “Which of you doesn’t work on the Sabbath? If your son or your cow falls into a pit, don’t you rush to get him out?” Again they could not answer.

Luke 14:1-6 (NLT emphasis added)

Jesus pointed out that even the Pharisees would break the commonly held rules around Sabbath when it was wise to do so!

We also find Jesus setting the record straight on why the Sabbath exists in the first place:

One Sabbath day as Jesus was walking through some grainfields, his disciples began breaking off heads of grain to eat. But the Pharisees said to Jesus, “Look, why are they breaking the law by harvesting grain on the Sabbath?”
Jesus said to them, “Haven’t you ever read in the Scriptures what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He went into the house of God (during the days when Abiathar was high priest) and broke the law by eating the sacred loaves of bread that only the priests are allowed to eat. He also gave some to his companions.”
Then Jesus said to them, “The Sabbath was made to meet the needs of people, and not people to meet the requirements of the Sabbath…”

Mark 2:23-27 (NLT emphasis added)

What we also find is Paul telling his protégé Timothy how to think of the writings of the Old Testament:

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

2 Timothy 3:14-17 (NIV emphasis added)

We Christians can become quite confused in how we use the Old Testament, especially since we are no longer living under the old covenant that is given so much attention in it. Paul calls these Scriptures “useful.” He does not call them binding rules, nor the covenant we are still under in addition to the new covenant, but rather they are “God breathed,” so yes God was involved in their writing, and they are “useful.” Nothing more, nothing less.

As Christians, we are not going to say “we are not under the old covenant, and we don’t need to become Jewish, so we are never going to rest!” Rather, the practice of a regular rhythm of rest is a wise thing to do. The Old Testament Scriptures are useful for teaching, just as Paul said. In a world that takes so much out of us, the practice of Sabbath is wise, in fact it is an act of love.

Let us be reminded, too, that the Old Testament commandments were an act of love toward others as well as oneself:

“Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as the LORD your God has commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your ox, your donkey or any of your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns, so that your male and female servants may rest, as you do.

Deuteronomy 5:12-14 (NIV)

Although the practice of a Sabbath day is not commanded for Jesus followers, practicing Sabbath is wise and is an act of love, toward oneself, and toward others.

So how do we Christians keep the Sabbath as a wise and loving thing to do? Should we set aside Sunday as a Sabbath, a day of rest? For some people that is very wise. Must we set aside Sunday as a Sabbath, a day of rest? For some of us that would be unwise, another day, or another rhythm of rest would be better.

When it comes to wisely practicing Sabbath, perhaps thinking of taking a day off work is too narrow. What would working too hard every day do to the ancient Israelites when the commandment to rest was first given? It could deplete their energy, cause injury, take away joy, destroy opportunities of connection and celebration, and likely lead to an early grave. Sometimes we need a break form the things that would deplete our energy, injure us, take away our joy, destroy opportunities for connection and celebration, and lead us to an early grave.

We might therefore need a break from hard work, but we may also need to take a break from bullies, expectations, people, loneliness, perfectionism, judgemental attitudes of others, or from being self-absorbed. There are many things that it may be wise to take a break from. Sabbath is an act of self-love.

But it is not just about us.

How might we give Sabbath to others? People might need a break from our expectations, our presence, our absence, our perfectionism, our judgement, our issues, and the things we do which trigger their anxiety.

Paul prayed for the believers in Philippi that their love might “abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight” (Phil 1:9 NIV). Loving people with wisdom includes concern for their need for Sabbath, discerning whatever kind of break they might need.

Given what we do and not find in the New Testament writings, Sabbath is not a strict day of obligation for the Christian, but it is an opportunity. It is an opportunity of practicing love toward oneself, giving ourselves permission to take a break. We may need a break, not just from work, but from whatever may be grinding us down. Sabbath is also an opportunity to love others, giving them a break, from work, or from whatever is grinding them down.

Notice how this can affect how we relate to those who are not church going Christians. When we think of Sabbath as a day of obligation we can have judgemental attitudes towards Sunday shoppers, Sunday mowers, or the like. Instead, in our super busy world where even retirees are worn out from having too much to do, Sabbath can be a point of commonality, and an invitation; “You need a break too, huh?”

Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”

Matthew 11:28-30 (NLT)

Sabbath is not an obligation that sends us on a guilt trip, but an opportunity for a journey in being wise in acts of love toward ourselves, and others.


This spring, Clarke Dixon announced the completion of a book. Read more about what’s inside Beautiful and Believable: The Reason for My Hope, by clicking this link. It’s a great book to give to someone who is considering Christianity but hasn’t made a decision. It contains material adapted from Clarke’s “Compelling” series which ran here a few years back. Available in print and e-book. For the rest of Clarke’s blog, click Thinking Through Scripture.

September 20, 2022

Eliminating Walls Between Christ-Followers

We’re back once again for a visit to the website called More Than Useless, written by Thom Fowler. Clicking the title which follows will take you there where you can read today’s thoughts where they originally appeared.

Tear Down Those Walls!

In my distress I prayed to the Lord,
… and the Lord answered me and set me free.
The Lord is for me, so I will have no fear.
… What can mere people do to me?
Psalm 118:5-6 NLT


God’s Good News

Let me say first that I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith in him is being talked about all over the world. God knows how often I pray for you. Day and night I bring you and your needs in prayer to God, whom I serve with all my heart[a] by spreading the Good News about his Son.

10 One of the things I always pray for is the opportunity, God willing, to come at last to see you. 11 For I long to visit you so I can bring you some spiritual gift that will help you grow strong in the Lord. 12 When we get together, I want to encourage you in your faith, but I also want to be encouraged by yours.

13 I want you to know, dear brothers and sisters,[b] that I planned many times to visit you, but I was prevented until now. I want to work among you and see spiritual fruit, just as I have seen among other Gentiles. 14 For I have a great sense of obligation to people in both the civilized world and the rest of the world,[c] to the educated and uneducated alike. 15 So I am eager to come to you in Rome, too, to preach the Good News.

16 For I am not ashamed of this Good News about Christ. It is the power of God at work, saving everyone who believes—the Jew first and also the Gentile.[d] 17 This Good News tells us how God makes us right in his sight. This is accomplished from start to finish by faith. As the Scriptures say, “It is through faith that a righteous person has life.”[e]

Growing up I went to kindergarten through 5th grade, initially in West Virginia then finished in North Carolina. We then moved to Ohio where I attended middle school.

Younger readers won’t get this reference, but in Ohio, many of my classmates called me Gomer Pyle! (Remember these colloquialisms? “Shazam!”, “Gooolly”, “Sur-prise, sur-prise, sur-prise!” If you recall his character, I’m sure you heard his accent loud and clear in your head!) So unsurprisingly, I had a bit of a southern accent. I wasn’t labeled for very long, but obviously, it impacted me, because I still remember it after all these years.

Unfortunately, one of the worst traits of humanity is not accepting others who are different. It is an ancient habit that is just as prominent today as it has ever been. It is a very complex mentality that plagues us all.

It is most disheartening in that, though you’d think it wouldn’t be, the church is not exempt from these thoughts and attitudes. If anything, we tend to expand the criteria of separation. We don’t just hold at arm’s length those who differ from us along cultural, social, racial, and economic lines, but we also throw in all the religious issues.

Some may be pretty vocal, but I think, instead, many have this underlying mentality of distrust – even fear – of those who aren’t like them. And the list of “problematic” characteristics then goes on forever – they may not speak the language we know, the customs of their culture exclude some of our traditions and add things that are totally foreign to us, they may come from way more money than we’ve ever seen, or they may be dirt poor and lack the fastidiousness of our hygiene, and of course, having any other skin tone may automatically throw up red flags.

Then to make matters worse, they may adhere to different faith practices than we do. They may speak in tongues, or partake of communion from a chalice, they may follow a strict liturgy of worship, or be entirely led by the Spirit in their worship style…and on and on it goes.

It’s not necessarily intentional, but walls go up…dividers are set into place. But isn’t that what Jesus came to tear down? The Apostle Paul said it this way,

For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. Ephesians 2:14-16 NIV

In verse 14 of today’s passage he stated,

For I have a great sense of obligation to people in both the civilized world and the rest of the world… NLT

My Life Application Study Bible says, regarding this verse,

Paul’s…obligation was to people of the entire world. He met his obligation by proclaiming Christ’s salvation to people – across all cultural, social, racial, and economic lines, both Jews and Gentiles. We also are obligated to Christ because he took the punishment we deserve for our sins. Although we cannot repay Christ for all he has done, we can demonstrate our gratitude by showing his love to others.

Lord Jesus, help us tear down those walls. May we too feel that obligation to people of the entire world…not just those near and dear. Amen.


NLT footnotes:

  1. 1:9 Or in my spirit.
  2. 1:13 Greek brothers.
  3. 1:14 Greek to Greeks and barbarians.
  4. 1:16 Greek also the Greek.
  5. 1:17 Or “The righteous will live by faith.” Hab 2:4.

September 10, 2022

Faithfulness versus Religious Ritual

During the past five years, there has been a great falling away in terms of regular church attendance. We’re written on this before, but for one more time, here’s another look at the subject through a slightly different lens. It starts out with an illustration that I wrote 9 years ago. In the fictional story, the family hasn’t stopped attending church, they’ve never learned how not to attend every time the doors are open.

How would a family like that be impacted if the doors of the church were locked for weeks at a time, as happened in March, 2020?

I Cor 4:2 ESV Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful.

The Henderson Family very rarely misses a church service, church meeting, or church function. They are what a previous generation called “pillars of the assembly;” people you can count on to be there and to do whatever needs doing in the church. A check of Mrs. H.’s pocket calendar shows a church event or responsibility consuming much of 17 of this month’s 31 days.

Some would say they are being faithful, while others would prefer to think they are in some kind of religious bondage. They could certainly use a copy of the book Boundaries, because saying ‘no’ isn’t in their vocabulary. How do you tell the difference between people who joyfully make the church the center of their lives, and people who serve under duress?

II Cor. 9:7a NIV Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion…

The Bible distinguishes between service and giving which are done joyfully and cheerfully versus that which is done under a sense of obligation.

I thought intensely about this once when it appeared that I would not be able to post a devotional reading. I tried to get online using a rather primitive smart-phone, but it wasn’t to be, as the limitations of the phone met the very limited internet access in the remote area where we were.

‘But I haven’t missed a day here in years,’ I thought to myself. Ah, there’s a religious spirit creeping in.

One person described this syndrome as “If I don’t, it won’t.” They meant the inner voice saying, “If I don’t ____________, then _____________ [something important] won’t happen.” It all depends on me, me, me.

Not a good place to be in. Instead of God being the center, I become the center. It also shows a misplaced appropriation of my place in the building of God’s Kingdom; a rather self-centered, egotistical sense of my own importance.

In fact, scripture describes ministry as more of a symphony concert than a solo recital:

I Cor. 3:6,7 Message Who do you think Paul is, anyway? Or Apollos, for that matter? Servants, both of us—servants who waited on you as you gradually learned to entrust your lives to our mutual Master. We each carried out our servant assignment. I planted the seed, Apollos watered the plants, but God made you grow. It’s not the one who plants or the one who waters who is at the center of this process but God, who makes things grow.

And then, the worst thought of all, where faulty attitude becomes outright sin. . It wasn’t so much trying to create a false impression of my faithfulness to this, as it was the feeling a curator of a set or collection must have if one of the items is missing. I must restore the museum/gallery to its pristine state. That’s pride.

Matthew 6:1 The Voice Jesus: But when you do these righteous acts, do not do them in front of spectators. Don’t do them where you can be seen, let alone lauded, by others. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.

Amazing how writing a daily devotional blog can cause to sin, isn’t it? So what would you tell the Henderson family? Is there a balance? What would you tell me?

April 7, 2022

When Bad Character Meets Bad Thinking

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Thinking Through John 12:1-11

by Clarke Dixon

Who do you think is the better Christian; Judas, or Mary?

Six days before the Passover celebration began, Jesus arrived in Bethany, the home of Lazarus—the man he had raised from the dead. A dinner was prepared in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, and Lazarus was among those who ate with him. Then Mary took a twelve-ounce jar of expensive perfume made from essence of nard, and she anointed Jesus’ feet with it, wiping his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance.
But Judas Iscariot, the disciple who would soon betray him, said, “That perfume was worth a year’s wages. It should have been sold and the money given to the poor.”

John 12:1-5 (NLT)

Let’s be honest, does not the use of perfume worth about a year’s wages in one single moment seem like a bad idea, a terrible use of resources? Judas was concerned for the poor. We might even say that he was more “Christlike” than Mary. Yet Judas was not commended:

Not that he cared for the poor—he was a thief, and since he was in charge of the disciples’ money, he often stole some for himself.
Jesus replied, “Leave her alone. She did this in preparation for my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.”

John 12:6-8 (NLT)

Judas does not have a good character. He is deceitful, greedy, a thief, and will go on to betray Jesus for money.

Is there anything to learn here? Yes,

Spending time with good people does not automatically fix bad character.

Being one of the twelve disciples Jesus chose to draw close, Judas spent a lot of time with Jesus. Yet despite all the teaching he heard, likely repeatedly as Jesus would have taught similar things in different towns, and despite all the miracles he witnessed, Judas was unchanged. Judas could not have found a better mentor than Jesus. Yet he was unchanged.

Are we spending time with good people yet we are unchanged? Are we spending time with God yet are unchanged? We can invest time in reading the Bible or in prayer yet not experience any kind of discernible change in character. We may not be any more loving than we were ten years ago, or joyful, peaceful, patient, or kind.

Devotion to good religion does not automatically fix bad character.

Judas was a Jew, and his concern for the poor was baked right into the Jewish faith. Yet not stealing was also baked right in! Judas perhaps gave the impression that he was a good Bible believing Jew with his suggestion regarding relief for the poor. Yet he was not a good Jew, his character was unchanged. His religion did not change him.

Are we devoted to Christianity, yet we are not changed? Perhaps we say a lot of good Christian sounding things, yet we are not more generous than we were ten years ago, or more faithful, gentle, or self-controlled.

Before we go on to talk about the solution, let’s recognize that things get worse as we read further:

When all the people heard of Jesus’ arrival, they flocked to see him and also to see Lazarus, the man Jesus had raised from the dead. Then the leading priests decided to kill Lazarus, too, for it was because of him that many of the people had deserted them and believed in Jesus.

John 12:9-11 (NLT)

The leading priests were supposed to be the cream of the crop, the ones who set the best example of what it looks like to be faithful to God. Yet from them we learn that not only does devotion to good religion not automatically fix bad character,

Devotion to good religion does not automatically fix bad thinking.

John Stonestreet often says, “bad ideas have bad consequences.” We see that played out here. The priests have the wrong idea about how to express their faith, and they have the wrong idea about who Jesus is. From these bad ideas spring their desire to kill both Jesus and Lazarus.

You might have expected the chief priests to treat the raising of Lazarus as a wake up call, to start rethinking their view of Jesus, to start listening to the teaching of Jesus. Their thinking went unchanged.

We can become destructive when we stick with bad thinking. That can be true when we are new to Christianity, failing to rethink areas of our lives that Christ shines a new light on. It can also be true for those of us who have been Christians for a long time. Our devotion to Christianity does not automatically fix our bad thinking.

Are we like Judas and the chief priests, or like Mary?

Mary’s generous character as demonstrated with the “waste” of perfume stands in contrast to the greed of Judas. Mary’s right thinking about Jesus, knowing that Jesus is worthy of an extreme act of devotion, stands in contrast with leading priests who want him dead.

So what’s the fix?

If devotion to Christianity does not automatically fix bad character or bad thinking, what will?

Jesus tells us:

“Anyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock. Though the rain comes in torrents and the floodwaters rise and the winds beat against that house, it won’t collapse because it is built on bedrock. But anyone who hears my teaching and doesn’t obey it is foolish, like a person who builds a house on sand. When the rains and floods come and the winds beat against that house, it will collapse with a mighty crash.”
When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, for he taught with real authority—quite unlike their teachers of religious law.

Matthew 7:24-29 (NLT)

Our character and ideas mature as we build upon Jesus.

It begins with being intentional. Builders choose to build. They also choose where to build. We can be intentional in our desire to build our lives on the teaching and example of Jesus.

This is different than saying we choose to build on our particular expression of the Christian faith. While most Christian traditions attempt to get the thinking right, there is no guarantee that they do. We want to keep going back to Jesus. We don’t want to let someone else dictate all the ideas to us. That happens in cults. Controlling people’s behaviour and thinking does not guarantee good character or good thinking. Helping people walk with Jesus and focus on Jesus ensures that we will at least be growing in both.

The builders choose to build, but at some point they need to grab the needed tools and get to work. The intention to build is not enough, there also needs to be action. “Anyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is wise.”

My wife and I decided sometime ago that we wanted to live a more healthy kind of lifestyle. Gluttony is the one sin we pastors can get away with. Good intentions for a healthier lifestyle needed to become actions, like walking past the snack cupboard, and lacing up the running shoes. Nike’s tagline of “Just Do It” is a brilliant tagline for a running shoe. It is also good advice to us as Christians, to get actively involved in our relationship with God.


Good intentions are not enough!

Though exercise has always been something I’ve dreaded, by just getting to it I have gone from “I have to get some exercise” to “I get to workout this morning.” We can go from saying “I have got to become a person of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” to saying “I get to become a person growing in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (See Galatians 5:22-23). We can go from saying “I’ve got to read my Bible more, and pray more,” to saying “I get to have my mind renewed and challenged by thinking through Scripture, I get to live life in the presence of God.”

Jesus himself models good intention and follow through by his intention to express love in the face of hatred. That good intention became action in his deliberate journey to the cross. When Mary poured out the perfume on Jesus, she unwittingly pointed out where that journey Jesus had chosen led; to his death, the full expression of God’s love. “Leave her alone. She did this in preparation for my burial.”

If Judas had listened to Jesus, rethinking life and putting his words into practice, then the kiss in the Garden of Gethsemane would have been one of true friendship and not betrayal. If the chief priests had listened to Jesus, rethinking life and putting his words into practice, then they would have welcomed him into Jerusalem as king and friend, and not as a fraud and enemy.

The cross is a reminder of what happens when bad character meets bad ideas. God came to us in Jesus and we killed him. When the bad character of Judas met up with the bad thinking of the leading priests, the execution of Jesus became a real possibility.

The cross is also a reminder of what happens when good character meets good ideas. Though God came to us in Jesus and we killed him, God loved us anyway. As we pick up our cross and follow in that way of love we will be changed, both in our character, and in our thinking.


January 20, 2022

Water Into Wine?

Thinking Through John 2:1-11 (and also thinking about “Conversion Therapy”)

by Clarke Dixon

  • The sermon on which this is based can be seen here

If you were allowed just one of Jesus’ miracles today, would you ask for water to be turned into wine?

You have likely heard of WWJD, meaning “what would Jesus do?” As we read through the Scripture Focus for today let us ask WWBD, “what would Baptists Do?” (You can substitute your expression of Christianity if you are not a Baptist.)

On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. 2 Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. 3 When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” 4 And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” 5 His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” 6 Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. 7 Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. 8 He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it.

9 When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom 10 and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.” 11 Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

John 2:1-11 (NRSV)

Had we been there when Jesus turned water into wine, we might have questioned what Jesus did. We may have asked:

  1. Why encourage the drinking of alcohol? It seems irresponsible.
  2. Why waste a miracle on a party? It seems inefficient. Wouldn’t healing someone from a terrible disease be more productive than providing wine for partygoers?
  3. Why use stone jars that were set aside for religious purposes? It seems sacrilegious. It would be like using a baptistry as a hot tub in our day.

Let us consider each of these questions.

Why encourage the drinking of alcohol?

Some Bible scholars point to the place of wine in the future Kingdom of God such as in this prophecy:

The time is surely coming, says the LORD,
when the one who plows shall overtake the one who reaps,
and the treader of grapes the one who sows the seed;
the mountains shall drip sweet wine,
and all the hills shall flow with it.
I will restore the fortunes of my people Israel,
and they shall rebuild the ruined cities and inhabit them;
they shall plant vineyards and drink their wine,
and they shall make gardens and eat their fruit.

Amos 9:13-14 (NRSV)

Amos prophesied that God’s people would experience judgement, primarily through an invasion of enemy forces. Though such an invasion would lead to the devastation of the land and therefore the ability to produce wine, the prophecy also looks beyond that devastation to a time of plenty, a time of blessing. When Jesus turned water into wine he gave a sign that such a future time of great blessing was near, and was coming through him.

Further, on the the day before his crucifixion, Jesus did this:

Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and all of them drank from it. He said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. Truly I tell you, I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.”

Mark 14:23-25 (NRSV)

Again wine is linked with future blessing in God’s Kingdom. It is also linked here with the shedding of Jesus’ blood, through which that blessing would be made available.

According to John, the turning of water into wine was not just the first miracle of Jesus, but more importantly, the first sign. It was a sign of the arrival of the Kingdom of God. It was a sign that the Kingdom of God would come through Jesus.

Why waste a miracle on a party?

Our scripture focus begins with, “On the third day.” Perhaps John is hinting at something else that happened “on the third day.“ The resurrection of Jesus is worthy of joy and celebration! The “third day” was a great day for a party. This brings us to the next point, namely that Jesus did not waste a miracle at a party, but again, gave a sign that God’s presence, specifically God’s presence in and through Jesus, should be joyfully celebrated:

Then the disciples of John came to him, saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples do not fast?” And Jesus said to them, “The wedding guests cannot mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them, can they?

Matthew 9:14-15 (NRSV)

There is much to celebrate with Jesus and the coming Kingdom of God including resurrection, re-creation, and renewal. This first sign of turning water into wine, pointed to a greater sign, the resurrection of Jesus.

Why use jars specifically set apart for religious purposes?

That Jesus would use jars set aside for religious purposes suggests that the religious life of the people had become rather staid and stuck in formal ritual. The worship of the Giver of life, had become lifeless. People were trying to do the right things, but often failed to do the right thing.

We see this, for example, in the parable about the Good Samaritan. The priests and the Levites were known for doing all the right things, keeping all the rules about ritual purity. Yet in the parable of the Good Samaritan they didn’t do the right thing. In fact some Bible scholars point out that it was their attempt to do the right thing in keeping ceremonially clean, that caused them to fail to do the right thing, which would have been to help the man left for dead. It was the Good Samaritan, and Samaritans were known for believing and doing the wrong things, who did the right thing. Likewise, while the religious leaders often condemned Jesus for not doing the right thing when he broke Sabbath laws, Jesus pointed out how he was doing the right thing in healing people.

Jesus came to bring something that lifeless religion could not, namely life. So here he is at a party, doing something unexpected, something unpredictable, something life-giving, something that inspired faith in the disciples. Using stone jars set apart for religious purposes was not sacrilegious. Empty formal religion is sacrilegious.

So what would we Baptists have done had we been in Jesus position?

I’m guessing that at least some of us, instead of turning water into wine, would have gathered up all the wine at the party and turned it into water. We would have missed out on the sign, the signpost to the Kingdom of God, of the life-giving, lively, exciting, joyful nature of the Kingdom of God.

Jesus knew what he was doing. Perhaps we might have done something different, thinking we knew better, but not really knowing what we were doing. Perhaps we still do this. Perhaps there are some things we do as Christians, as Baptists, where we turn wine into water so to speak, where we could instead provide signs of God’s Kingdom.

One example where I think we have been turning wine into water.

During this past week, it became law that conversion therapy is now illegal here in Canada. That is, to put it as simply as possible, it is now illegal to try and help a gay person become straight. Therefore there has been a call for pastors across Canada, and the United States, to preach on sexual morality today.

What I find strange is this: a conversation about sexual morality, that is, how one honors God, others, and one’s self with one’s body, is a completely separate and different conversation than one about so-called “conversion therapy.” Since the law is about “conversion therapy” I’d rather focus on that today.

Perhaps an illustration might help us start this conversation.

I have been described as being excruciating shy as a boy. Report card after report card said “Clarke is too quiet.” In Grade 6 the teacher called me out to the hallway for a private chat. “What do you want to do for a living?” he asked. I told him I wanted to be an airline pilot to which he responded; “Airline pilot? How are you going to be able to do that, for airline pilots have to pick up the microphone and speak to people on the plane.” Thankfully, I didn’t become an airline pilot, so I didn’t have to worry about that. God obviously has a sense of humor. My quietness continued on into adulthood and on a personality test I scored 9 out 10 for introversion vs extroversion.

So, what would happen if we created a world where there is no room for introverts, where one’s introversion is seen as something that needs fixed? Perhaps someone might come up with a therapy that promised to help introverts become extroverts. Those who score 6 of 10 on the introversion scale may find themselves seemingly more extroverted and the therapy may be hailed as a success. But people like me, scoring 8, 9, or 10 out of 10 wouldn’t experience change. Now not only is there something fundamentally wrong with us that needs fixed, but now there is something doubly wrong with us, for we are not fixable. We would become very frustrated in not experiencing change, frustrated to the point of despair. Some of us would take our own lives.

This kind of thing has been happening with “conversion therapy” for gay people all along. Actually it has been worse than my illustration of introversion, for not only have gay people had the label “broken,” but also “evil.” Making matters still worse, where we might have no difficulty having conversions about introversion, conversations about being gay can very quickly cease to be conversations. Bottom line: conversion therapy has caused more harm than good. People have been hurt, badly.

Back to the story of the Good Samaritan. What if, the beat up person left for dead in the ditch is the gay person who has been beat up by efforts to change him or her? What if we Baptists have been the priest and Levite passing on the other side, or worse, the perpetrator of the crime? What if the Canadian government is trying to be a Good Samaritan here?

There may well be nuances on the wording of the law that needs attention, but much of what I’ve seen in the call to preach on sexual morality in response to the new law has not been honest discussion on how awful conversion therapy is, but rhetoric about how awful the “gay agenda” is, and how persecuted we Christians are. We are not the ones left for dead in the ditch.

Perhaps we need to do some thinking about where we identify in the parable of the Good Samaritan. Perhaps it is time to think about what it looks like to turn water into wine, what it looks like for there to be signs of God’s Kingdom within the LGBTQ+ community.

As a ban on conversion therapy comes into effect, instead of rushing to pulpits to speak about sexual immorality, perhaps we should begin by walking with someone who is gay, taking time to listen. That means making time to listen. That also means making room in our minds and hearts to hear what is said. Maybe listening could be one sign of the Kingdom coming?

I will never tell my gay son that he should not identify as gay. He will never tell me that I should not identify as introverted. I have never stopped being an introvert, but I have learned, with stumbling steps sometimes, how to survive and thrive as a quiet person in a noisy world. Maybe that speaks to what should be our focus, not how we get gay people to become straight as conversion therapy aims to do, but how do we help all people, gay or straight, walk with Jesus in faith, hope, and love. What does water into wine look like in each person’s life?

Conclusion

Had we been at the wedding at Cana, we might have done things differently, but Jesus, being predictably unpredictable, did what he did, and and it stirred faith in the disciples.

We ask “what would Jesus do?” He just might do something surprising, something unpredictable, something life-giving, something that leads to joy and celebration, something that points to the beautiful Kingdom of God.

While we began with What would a Baptist do, the question here is, what will we do, to show signs of God’s Kingdom?

October 16, 2021

Rescued from a Life Apart from God to a Life With God

Eleven years ago, in 2010, many of us were glued to a live CNN feed from Copiapo, Chile; watching the rescue of the 33 miners who had been trapped underground for 69 days. That got me thinking at the time about what it means to be rescued.

In Psalm 18:17 we read:

He rescued me from my powerful enemy, from my foes, who were too strong for me.

In II Tim 3 10-11 Paul tells Timothy,

You, however, know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, persecutions, sufferings—what kinds of things happened to me in Antioch, Iconium and Lystra, the persecutions I endured. Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them.

And Paul again, speaking in a broader sense in Col. 1:13-14 writes;

For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

The experience of the Chilean miners is similar to our own experience.  Maybe you became a Christ follower at a young age and didn’t experience much in the way of sin and depravity, but positionally, all of us were once captive and now we are numbered among the rescued. We’ve been set free!

But do we truly appreciate it? Instead of focusing on what you were saved out of, think of what you were saved from.  Think of what might have been — the things you were kept from and even today are kept from — were it not for the Holy Spirit working on and working in your life.

Let’s think about someone who knew exactly what she’d been saved out of. Consider this passage from Luke 7 — especially the climax of verse 47 — in the light of the personal rescue that has taken place just for you…

36Now one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, so he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. 37When a woman who had lived a sinful life in that town learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, she brought an alabaster jar of perfume, 38and as she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.

39When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.”

40Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.”
“Tell me, teacher,” he said.

41“Two men owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he canceled the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”

43Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt canceled.”
“You have judged correctly,” Jesus said.

44Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. 46You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. 47Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.”

While I believe we have a picture here of a woman who has been transformed, or at the very least is in the process of transformation. But note that her reputation has continued to follow her. It would take time (and an endorsement from the Teacher from Nazareth) before that reputation would start to change.

Additionally, the rest of the people there had every reason to be thankful as well because, by the grace of God, they had not succumbed to a life that would bring societal and community condemnation.

But wait, there’s more!

The dichotomy of what we’ve been saved from versus that what we’ve been saved out of, pales in comparison to what we’ve been saved to.

By this I mean that instead of letting sin set the standard, and focusing on whether we came from a dark background or if we dodged the proverbial bullet (and letting that identify us), we should instead focus on the idea that we’ve been saved to a life in Christ, which includes 24-hour access to his presence.

We’re no longer looking back, but we’re enjoying the present and looking forward to the future.

The Chilean miners lived each successive day in the blessing of having been rescued, but I’m sure that this doesn’t define their lives today, eleven years later. Rather they are living in the present and looking forward to the future, and for them, I hope this also includes the life in Christ we’ve discussed.

 

October 3, 2021

Getting Younger with Each New Day

He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.
 – Isaiah 40:29 NIV

But those who trust in the LORD will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint.
 – Isaiah 40:31 NLT

Years ago I had an interesting conversation with a guy who I figured to be at least a decade older than myself. When the conversation ended he left, but then he returned and said he just wanted to share a verse with me. He then quoted II Cor 4:16 to me from the KJV:

For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward [man] is renewed day by day.

Most of you would know this better from the NIV:

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.

He then went on to tell me that he has been told, and has felt that he is “getting younger.” He said he felt more rejuvenated, and more energetic than at any time in his life.

This is not the first time an older follower of Christ has told me something like this. A woman told me that she’d noticed that the new hair growth on her head was coming in darker, replacing the grey hairs.

Looking for a way to respond somehow, I told him — and I hope this didn’t sound too new age — that he was simply filled with fresh passion about his faith and that he was drawing on the energy from that passion. He didn’t argue that point.

That’s the kind of faith to aim for; a faith that is vibrant and exciting and informs the other areas that make up the four parts of you: your mind, your social interactions, your emotions; and even your physical body. (See this four-part division in Luke 2:52.)

Renewal Means Being Made New

There was once an SNL skit by the comedian who played a priest in which he talked about a planet where people reached a certain age and then started getting younger. The punchline was something to the effect that “you didn’t know if someone was coming or going.” It’s not applicable here except insofar as it introduces “outside the box” thinking. Renewal — if you really think about it — is just that; being made new.

Paul tells the Corinthians,

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (II-5:7)

I once heard someone say that the Greek on this passage is not talking about a metamorphosis like a caterpillar turning into a butterfly, but more like a caterpillar turning into a “winged elephant.” In other words, anyone in Christ becomes (his words): “a species of being that never existed before.” So we are all not who we were, we are changed and are being changed.

The idea of “getting younger” goes against the basic rules of science, but with God anything is possible. In John 3:3, Jesus introduces Nicodemus to the idea of being “born again.” In the next verse Nick asks the obvious question,

“How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”
 – NIV

In the upside-down kingdom Jesus brings, the new birth isn’t quite that dramatic, but it’s just as significant. The man I met said he is “getting younger” and frankly, I have no reason to believe he is not.

Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.
 – Isaiah 41:10 NLT

Renewal Means the Dead are Made Alive

A parallel comparison can be constructed from the more central idea of scripture that, rather than looking at the aged recovering youthful vigor, we should be looking at those who are spiritual dead — which was all of us at one time — being given new life.

This is the message of 1 Corinthians 15:22

Just as everyone dies because we all belong to Adam, everyone who belongs to Christ will be given new life. (NLT)

A new energy. A fresh start. A clean slate.

How can anyone walk way from that offer?

 

July 20, 2021

Christianity’s Exclusivity

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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Today again we get to highlight a new voice. Dave Lowe writes at The Lowedown (and his articles are DAVEotionals!) He has spent his life in service with Cru (along with his wife Jen) and currently heads up Cru City’s Millennial ministry in California, reaching out to one of the least evangelized groups in the western world. As always, you’re strongly encouraged to click the header which follows and read these articles where we found them.

Is Christianity an Exclusive Religion?

1 Timothy 2

1I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. As you make your requests, plead for God’s mercy upon them, and give thanks. 2Pray this way for kings and all others who are in authority, so that we can live in peace and quietness, in godliness and dignity. 3This is good and pleases God our Savior, 4for he wants everyone to be saved and to understand the truth. 5For there is only one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and people. He is the man Christ Jesus. 6He gave his life to purchase freedom for everyone. This is the message that God gave to the world at the proper time. 7And I have been chosen—this is the absolute truth—as a preacher and apostle to teach the Gentiles about faith and truth. (1 Timothy 2:1-7, NLT)

DAVEotional

One of the criticisms I often hear when talking to others about Christ is that Christianity claims to be exclusive. These claims of exclusivity are seen as a negative in our culture, which values freedom of thought, and in the name of tolerance, often validates any and all views, no matter how outlandish or illogical.

It’s absolutely true that Christianity claims to be true and  on certain doctrinal matters it is exclusive.

In this passage of 1 Timothy 2, Paul is urging his audience to pray for everyone, including kings and those in authority. I previously wrote about the need to pray for our political rivals here.

Paul gives the reason why we should pray for others, even those who are in authority over us and with whom we might disagree – God wants everyone to be saved and understand the truth.

Two questions naturally follow: what does it mean “to be saved” and “what is the truth that people need to understand?”

When the Bible talks about being saved, it’s referring to being rescued from punishment. The picture is that we are on a trajectory that will lead to disaster but because of God’s help, our crisis is averted.

One of the questions that every religion seeks to answer is “how can people be reconciled to God?” Or another way of putting it is, “what must a person do in order to be accepted by God and enter into His presence?”

To be reconciled means to be brought back into a favorable relational status. What must I do to please God, to earn His favor and gain His acceptance?

Nearly every religion answers this question by providing a list of actions one must complete or avoid in order to gain favor. These actions form the basis for evaluating a person’s devotion to God and the quality or “goodness” of a person’s life, which in turn is used to determine their worthiness for entering God’s presence in the afterlife.

But here lies the problem. Nobody can follow all the rules that any religion might establish. These “rules” create a legal system for following God which people inevitably violate. One doesn’t have to read very far into the Old Testament to see that the Israelites were constantly abandoning God’s laws and rebelling against His statutes.

So what is the “truth” that God wants everyone to understand?

The truth is outlined in verses 5 and 6, which state:

For there is only one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and people. He is the man Christ Jesus. He gave his life to purchase freedom for everyone. This is the message that God gave to the world at the proper time.

The truth is that the ONLY way to be reconciled to God is through Christ Jesus. His death on the cross purchased freedom for everyone.

So reconciliation to God does NOT occur by keeping a list of religious requirements. Instead, it comes by placing one’s faith in Jesus to make the payment for us.

Is it exclusive? YES and NO!

It’s exclusive in that Jesus is the ONLY one who has made a payment for sin. No other religious system even offers a solution to how imperfect people can make themselves righteous enough to enter into the presence of an infinitely holy God. Every other religious system keeps people trapped in the religious hamster wheel of endlessly attempting to make oneself “worthy” before God, only to experience moral failure through everyday sins.

Fortunately for us, Jesus rescues us from this religious trap and provides a way for us to actually be reconciled.

But it’s NOT exclusive in the sense that the freedom Jesus offers is available to EVERYONE, not just some select group. ANYONE can access God by coming to Jesus!

This is the truth that God wants EVERYONE to understand, which is why Paul urges us to pray for all people to ultimately understand this truth so that they might experience God’s mercy.

Reflection

What is your view on how a person is “saved”? In other words, in your view, what does a person need to do in order to make it to heaven and live with God for eternity?

What is the basis for your answer in the previous question? In other words, what is the source of the views that you hold? 

People often say that Christians are too exclusive in their views. Do you agree that Christianity is exclusive? If so, why is this seen as a negative to people? Does being exclusive mean that it is automatically wrong? Why or why not?

The essence of Christianity’s exclusive claims is found in verse 6, which says, “He [Jesus] gave his life to purchase freedom for everyone.” How would you explain this concept to someone else? What does it mean that Jesus gave his life? What does it mean that he purchased freedom?


Because of the nature of today’s article, it may be that a search engine brought you here and you’ve not yet crossed the line of faith. I want to invite you to read another one of Dave’s articles which touches on things you might be considering; check out Follow the Science.

May 14, 2021

The Gift or the Altar on Which it is Placed?

Matthew 23:19, NLT: “How blind! For which is more important–the gift on the altar or the altar that makes the gift sacred?”

Two devotional sources for you today; and three readings in total. First…

My investigation into Matthew 23:19 began in March with a devotional from Magnficent Life Ministries which I had bookmarked to return to. They post insightful thoughts on a daily basis from their offices in California. Click the next line to read this at their site.

Which is More Important?

“Fools and blind! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that sanctifies the gift?” Mathew 23:19

Jesus threw a question at the scribes and Pharisees for their misconception about the altar and the gift on the altar. Have you thought about such a question for a moment? Or have you ever related this to your life? If yes, then I would like to invite you to read today’s devotion with full attention. It is a great opportunity to learn who we are and how to present ourselves to God.

The same way the altar is important, so also the gift, but not as much. About ourselves, it means we are the carrier of the altar, and the gift is God’s riches in our possession. When the gifts are presented to God, they might be rejected or accepted not because the gift is bad or good, but the presenter of the gift that serves as the altar’s carrier is more important than the gift itself.

Genesis 4:7 says, “If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you refuse to do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires you, but you must master it.”

We can see from the scriptures how God accepted Abel and his offering but rejected Cain and his offering. Genesis 4: (Read the middle verse of today’s devotion Gen. 4:7 as God’s response to Cain). The bible also clarifies this in Romans 12:1, the more we present our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable unto God, the more our relationship with him becomes deeper than before.

Beloved, thousands and millions present their case before God every second, but it has always been rejected. The creator has not found them worthy of acceptance, not to talk of accepting their gifts, because their life does not reflect the true altar, Christ Jesus. Therefore, we must present our body as a living sacrifice for the sake of God. 1 Corinthians 6:19 says, “do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own”

Prayer
1. Psalm 19:14-Father, I present my body as a living sacrifice unto you, making it acceptable in thy sight O lord
2. I receive the grace to set priorities towards the weightiest matters of this kingdom in Jesus’ name. Amen


I decided to check out one more source for you. BibleRef.com is unique in that in addition to providing commentary on the verse in question, each page displays an overview of the verse context, along with an overview of the whole chapter. You need to click the header that follows to see what I mean.

What does Matthew 23:19 mean?

Jesus has called the scribes and Pharisees blind guides (Matthew 23:16), blind fools (Matthew 23:17), and now simply calls them blind. Their ranking of some oaths as binding and others as non-binding shows their complete lack of understanding about what belongs to God and what it means to swear an oath (Matthew 23:13–15).

Using a traditional scheme of loopholes and technicalities, these religious leaders have declared that swearing by the gold of the temple or swearing by the sacrifice on an altar requires a person to keep their word. In contrast, they say, swearing by the temple or altar themselves is somehow non-binding. Jesus has pointed out that the temple that makes the gold sacred, just as the altar makes the sacrifice sacred. The scribes and Pharisees, of all people, should understand that all these things come from God and belong to God. These supposedly learned men don’t have any basis to declare one sacred and another not.

While not stated directly, this “woe” also underscores Jesus’ prior criticism of using oaths to enhance a promise. Why encourage anyone to take an oath, to swear by something sacred, for any reason? Why not just teach people to keep their plain word when they say “yes” or “no.” Anything more than that, as Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount, comes from evil (Matthew 5:33–37).


Bonus Devotional

I decided to share today’s item from Magnificent Life Ministries with you as well, even though it’s a different topic. I hope you’ll bookmark this site and visit often, or if you want a shorter devotional (than what we do here) for another part of your day, subscribe. Click the header below to read at source.

Contentment!

“Of course, godliness with contentment is great gain.” 1 Timothy 6:6

More is never enough, seeming to be the motto for life in this world. You have seen it and probably felt it too. The world philosophy as related to things is, “If I can afford it, get it; and if I can’t afford it, charge it!” This craving for possessions (especially things we don’t need) has resulted in too many ruined lives, devastated families, and a vulnerable nation.

God has a better idea. He calls His people to godly lifestyles. In this passage, Paul coupled the call to live in godliness with the spirit of contentment. Ultimate satisfaction and sufficiency can only be attained by abiding in Christ. He alone is the all-sufficient One. When godliness and contentment are wedded in the hearts of God’s people, blessings abound. However, godliness without contention is dangerous to our health, happiness, and well-being.

Proverbs 28:25 says, “The greedy stir up conflict, but those who trust in the LORD will prosper.”

Do not seek what the world has to offer, for it is never enough—and it will never lead to true contentment. All of those things are not real as they were; the devil has just made it seems genuine in people’s sight. Until we recognize that true riches and inheritance are not in this world, humankind might not stop chasing the world and won’t be contended.

Seek the God of heaven, and seek to further His kingdom on earth. Allow Him to develop His character inside you as you find your sufficiency in Him. Focus your attention on the pursuit of the “mystery of godliness” that Paul described (1 Tim. 3:16) rather than on the pursuit of all the “stuff” that the world holds valuable. Hebrews 13:5 says, “Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He, Himself, has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

Prayer:
1. Father, help me truly know who You are and find true contentment in my relationship with You.
2. Psalm 119:36: Oh Lord, “Turn my heart to Your testimonies and not to covetous gain.” in Jesus’ name.

 

January 27, 2021

They Don’t Want Our Dirty Water

Last Thursday we were unable to bring you Clarke Dixon’s latest “Shrunk Sermon” so we’re presenting it today and hope to have the regular one here tomorrow as well.

Some Reasons People Are Not Into Church, and What to Do About it

by Clarke Dixon

Religion, and Christianity in particular, is not seen in too good a light these days. The statistics are not good. Every census reveals that more and more people are in the “nones” category, as in no religion, thank you very much.

We may want to blame the pandemic. We may want to blame people. Perhaps we, Christians, shoulder some of the blame? Perhaps we do things that make a lot of non-Christians look at Christianity and say “no thanks, we don’t want your dirty water.”

Perhaps we are too “stuffy,” for lack of a better word? Let’s be honest, some of us don’t seem like much fun to be around. We can come across as mean and angry. I used to visit a gentleman connected with our congregation who would tell me to never use humor in preaching because Jesus never used humor. He was not much fun to be around. Nor was he a gentle man.

Perhaps we are hypocritical and self-centered. A friend of mine put out a blog post at the end of last year lamenting the many public Christian leaders that had moral failures come to light in 2020. We can all think of Christians who used their positions in churches for money, sex, or power. People see things like that and say “we don’t want your dirty water.”

Perhaps we are just not good. Just recently the world watched the Capitol building in Washington being stormed. The world saw the political signs, white supremacist symbols, and a big banner declaring “Jesus Saves” all together in one place. More dirty water.

Two stories about Jesus from John 2 will help. Here is the first:

The next day there was a wedding celebration in the village of Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples were also invited to the celebration. The wine supply ran out during the festivities, so Jesus’ mother told him, “They have no more wine.”
“Dear woman, that’s not our problem,” Jesus replied. “My time has not yet come.”
But his mother told the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”
Standing nearby were six stone water jars, used for Jewish ceremonial washing. Each could hold twenty to thirty gallons. Jesus told the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” When the jars had been filled, he said, “Now dip some out, and take it to the master of ceremonies.” So the servants followed his instructions.
When the master of ceremonies tasted the water that was now wine, not knowing where it had come from (though, of course, the servants knew), he called the bridegroom over. “A host always serves the best wine first,” he said. “Then, when everyone has had a lot to drink, he brings out the less expensive wine. But you have kept the best until now!”

John 2:1-10 (NLT)

According to John this is the first miracle of Jesus. Now if you were Jesus, what would you choose to do for your first miracle? I think I would find the person with the worst health and fix them up. But not Jesus. He turns water into wine to keep a party going. And he uses stone jars meant for religious use. The very first miracle is surprisingly irreligious. It would be a bit like using our communion cups as shot glasses. That is perhaps taking it a bit too far, but it is in the right direction.

Why would Jesus do this? Bible scholars point out that the miracle is a signal about what is about to happen in and through Jesus. The covenant of marriage at this marriage celebration is pointing to the New Covenant in Jesus, and this is worthy of a huge celebration.

While this is no doubt correct, I also think that Jesus turned water into wine because that is the kind of thing Jesus does. He was just being himself. We get so technical in our study of Jesus and his words we can forget just how approachable and down-to-earth he was. People who would not feel comfortable in churches in our day felt comfortable being with Jesus. Jesus was like a breath of fresh air. Are we?

There is a bit of fun, when Jesus takes something set aside for religious use, and uses it to keep the party going. Relationship with God is not a stuffy thing. Do we make it seem like it is?

Here is the second story from John 2 that will help us:

It was nearly time for the Jewish Passover celebration, so Jesus went to Jerusalem. In the Temple area he saw merchants selling cattle, sheep, and doves for sacrifices; he also saw dealers at tables exchanging foreign money. Jesus made a whip from some ropes and chased them all out of the Temple. He drove out the sheep and cattle, scattered the money changers’ coins over the floor, and turned over their tables. Then, going over to the people who sold doves, he told them, “Get these things out of here. Stop turning my Father’s house into a marketplace!”
Then his disciples remembered this prophecy from the Scriptures: “Passion for God’s house will consume me.”

John 2:13-17 (NLT)

Perhaps we are surprised at the anger of Jesus? We should be more surprised at what was happening at the Temple. Except, of course, that we are not. People were doing then what people often do; making it about themselves. The very place where people were to focus on God, became a place where people were focusing on themselves and what they could get out of it.

Yes, money needed to be changed, and yes, animals needed to be bought, especially for travelers coming from a great distance, but the location was all wrong. They had turned the area meant for non-Jewish visitors to be able to worship into a marketplace. It seems to be a human thing to take every opportunity to make it about ourselves, our people, our opportunity for gain.

This kind of thing still happens in our day, when people take ministries meant to help people connect people with God, and instead use them to get money, sex, or power. One wonders what tables Jesus would turn in our day.

Jesus displayed a zeal for what is right, what is good, a desire to see God’s intentions honored. Do we?

When we look at these two stories together we find they call us to a good balance. From the miracle of turning water into wine we learn that we might be taking ourselves, and our religion, too seriously. From Jesus driving out the money changers we learn that we might not be taking God seriously enough.

We find here, not a call to be more religious, to appease a God that is always frowning or scowling, but a call to be more in step with God who smiles on us. We may be guilty of causing people to think that God is always frowning on us and humorless, or that God just does not matter.

If people are not interested in Christianity in our day, maybe it is because our expression of Christianity is just not that great. We make it too stuffy. Perhaps we are taking ourselves, and religion itself, too seriously. Maybe we just need to lighten up. Or we make it too self-centered, using religion for our own advantage. What should be about God ends up being about us. Maybe we need to smarten up.

The solution is to focus on Jesus. When we focus on Jesus we won’t be stuffy or self-centered. If people don’t want our dirty water, maybe we should ask Jesus to turn it into wine.


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Ontario, Canada. You can watch this message or see it in the context of this online service presentation.

 

October 24, 2020

Salvation Happens Only When We Say ‘Yes’

NIV.Luke.23.39 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”

40 But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? 41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”

42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

43 Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

Today we introduce a new writer. Milly tells you a lot about her journey to faith in the first sentence and throughout her blog, Gracious Way, where this appeared in July. Click the header to read at source and check out other articles.

Love Saves Us When We Accept It

A few years ago, shortly after my conversion from atheist to believer, I joined a group of believers trying to plant a church in a very, very atheist Canadian city: Vancouver. One night a man joins us and the pastor, as well as some of the others, who were always so welcoming, seemed uneasy about him. He was a Christian universalist and, back then, I had no clue what that meant.

Now, friends, there are a lot of differences across religions. And we know that a relationship with God has nothing to do with any religion, but we are called to be patient with fellow believers who are blindsided by religious beliefs.

Christianity itself is a religion: Jesus did not found it and does not belong to it. He was always very critical of religion and if he would show up today, he would not be any less critical of Christian denominations.

But believing that we are all saved regardless of believing into God. Without making the decision to do his will. And without being willing to know what that will is. That is not just a difference. That’s a different story.

I completely understand the complexity of separating a relationship with God from religion. But while God will raise anything, and anyone, as a means to reach out to us, a relationship with him does not happen while we continue to pursue the things of the world and live by its standards.

What saves us is precisely our belief into God. This belief allows us to share his divinity and live a forgiven, peaceful and joyful life in a world of struggles.

The thief on the cross who believed and repented at the very last moment is an example of how God does not give up easily on us. Instead he gives us every single opportunity to leave death behind.

But ultimately we are free, and if we choose this world instead, we have to live with the consequences: death in the physical and spiritual sense.

This is all to say that when God calls us, we have the choice to answer or not. And it is only when we do answer that he can save us.


C201 New LinkMission Statement: Christianity 201 is a melting-pot of devotional and Bible study content from across the widest range of Christian blogs and websites. Sometimes two posts may follow on consecutive days by authors with very different doctrinal perspectives. The Kingdom of God is so much bigger than the small portion of it we can see from our personal vantage point, and one of the purposes of C201 is to allow readers a ‘macro’ view of the many ministries and individual voices available for reading.

Scripture portions from various translations quoted at Christianity 201 are always in green to remind us that the Scriptures have LIFE!

August 11, 2020

You Can’t Hate Religious Hypocrisy and Applaud Political Hypocrisy

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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A year ago we introduced you to Geno Pyse, who writes at Geno Pyse and the Proclamation. I know, it sounds like the name of a band! He’s recently decided to change to shorter articles, but this one, the second-last of the longer format things he’s written, caught my eye. Click the header which follows to read this at its source.

Is Hypocrisy Relative?

I have heard numerous people state the reason they neither like nor attend church is because churches are “filled with hypocrites.” Such persons give the impression that they hate hypocrisy. But wait, is such a statement true, or does it also reveal hypocrisy—the very thing persons imply to dislike?

First, what is hypocrisy and what are hypocrites? Hypocrisy is to claim or to give the impression of having moral standards, yet to live in contrast to these standards. Thus, a hypocrite is one who does not live in accordance to what he professes.

It might surprise some, but Jesus hates hypocrisy. In Matthew’s Gospel He says of some:

You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said:

‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.’ (15:7-8)

And,

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. (23:27-28)

In any case, is the issue people have against church really that of hypocrisy? Mind you, I am not saying there are not any hypocrites in churches, for there are some. However, is this really the reason persons despise churches? I dare say, by and large the answer is a resounding “No!”

If there is any realm where hypocrisy surpasses religious hypocrisy by far is that of politics! How often those on political platforms project an image of moral superiority, all the while lying to the masses with all sorts of ulterior motives. The hypocrisy and corruption in politics knows no bounds. But I have noticed, no matter how repulsive the hypocrisy of the political figures, multitudes will not only gather to see them, but to cheer for them!

The tentacles of politics, like parasites, dig into the realms of media and entertainment. Those who denounce the hypocrisy in churches will defend the hypocrisy of journalists spreading agendas rather than giving the facts. While Christians trying to live honest and moral lives are condemned, immoral Hollywood elitists are viewed as purveyors of truth as they applaud and support the cause of the rioters—so long as they do not come to their neighborhoods!

But is hypocrisy relative? Is hypocrisy wrong in religion but permissible in politics? It is an amazing thing to me when I hear persons criticize preachers as being  deceivers, while saying, “Amen” when a politician or talking head speaks boldfaced lies.

So, generally speaking, do people really hate hypocrisy? No, for you cannot truly hate something when you applaud it in other areas. Then what is it about religion, Christianity in particular, people find revulsive? Is it really the hypocrisy? Granted, religious hypocrisy can leave a bitter taste in people’s mouths; but again, many find hypocrisy in other settings quite flavorful. I assure you, God hates hypocrisy in every form and in every setting. In both the Old and New Testaments, hypocrisy is condemned in religious, political, and personal realms.

So what is the real issue people have with Christianity? Jesus gets straight to the point when He declares the true reason people hate not simply Christianity, but Him: “The world … hates me because I testify about it that it’s works are evil.”

No figure in history has ever displayed more powerfully what it truly means to love and show mercy to others. Some denounce Christianity as being “too exclusive,” but no figure has ever had such an open invitation to everyone who will come to Him. However, His teachings strike at our greed, lust, hatred, prejudice, selfishness, etc.

Again, many dislike Jesus’ exclusivity, but consider the reason people are condemned:

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. ~ John 3:16-20 (ESV)

The light of Jesus Christ shines into our hearts and exposes our cracks and brokenness. His light exposes our depravity and barbarism. His light exposes who we truly are, and instead of humbly coming to Him, many choose to curse the light and embrace the darkness. Many choose to criticize the broken followers of Jesus, condemning them as hypocrites, all the while extolling hypocrisies far more vehement, divisive, and destructive.

Is hypocrisy relative? No. Hypocrisy stands against truth—which is also not relative. And when one stands against truth he must embrace lies.

 

June 28, 2020

Jesus and Ritual Hand Washing (Part One)

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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NIV.Mark.7.1. The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus and saw some of his disciples eating food with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. (The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders. When they come from the marketplace they do not eat unless they wash. And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers and kettles.)

So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with defiled hands?”

Today our searching for devotional sources to highlight here took us to Psalter Mark, the blog of Dr. Mark Whiting. He states that his “blog’s central aim is to explore all aspects of how the Psalter (the biblical psalms) functions as Scripture today.”

I wanted to include this article in full, but at nearly 1,500 words, it was a little long for our format. But as I tried and tried to edit it — knowing that many of you don’t click through for the ending — I decided instead to run this in full in two parts, today and tomorrow. But you’re encouraged to click the title below and read it in one sitting.

From Hand Washing to #SyrophoenicianLivesMatter: Mark 7

As human beings we have an annoying trait of complicating what God instructs us to do. This is where Mark 7 begins, but not where it ends. At the start of the chapter it is the Pharisees who are complicating God’s instruction. In fact, Jesus will go on to explain they are doing something even worse.

Throughout Mark’s gospel, Jesus faces hostility from the religious leaders. It was not just Jesus that the leaders had it in for, Israel had a long tradition of prophets who criticised the status quo and thereby the leaders. In Jesus’ time it was still the case. Many people would announce a new teaching, usually centred on the need for political change. Then they set out to bring truth to power. Some, like Jesus, gave everything in the attempt.

Here, the Pharisees have taken some of God’s instruction (torah) and made an extra burden of tradition to go on top. The Law (torah) required priests to ritually clean their hands. This was an act of grace as it reminded them that when dealing with the Holy God of Israel a clean heart is essential.

Please note that this is not about hand hygiene—though this is the centre of our daily lives at present. As an aside, we might want to have a word with Jesus and his disciples on this count.

The accusation that the disciples have not washed their hands, is a claim that they have not obeyed the extra rules made by the Elders. These rules had been added as a burden on everyone. When you are travelling doing itinerant ministry, is not feasible to carry the necessary dedicated washing cups, pots, and bronze kettles. And Mark’s gospel makes it clear that Jesus liked his disciples to travel light.

Jesus, as a rabbi, is responsible for his disciple’s actions. At this level, the Pharisees are justified in bringing the matter to Jesus. The problem with their case is, however, twofold. Firstly, their motives are dubious. This, however, is not the point that Jesus takes up with them. The second issue is the key one. By focusing on man-made traditions these become a distraction from God himself.

Jesus quotes from Isaiah 29:13:

‘This people honors me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
teaching human precepts as doctrines.’

We must not get self-righteous at this point by spotting what we do without thinking. In my own Baptist tradition, the trinity of words: tradition, doctrine, and ritual are often unspoken and these matters judged as peripheral. We might read what Jesus says about human traditions and then go further than Jesus does.

In quoting from Isaiah, God-sanctioned tradition, Jesus is primarily pointing out that God desires true worship. He wants hearts that are set on him. At the same time, he affirms that doctrine and ritual still have a place. In the New Testament, the disciples and Jesus’ brother, James, affirm both doctrine and ritual. In the case of ritual, we still have cleansing effected baptism, we have Christ’s sacrifice proclaimed in bread and wine, and the anointing of the Holy Spirit through anointing with oil. All these are mandated by Jesus and/or the testimony of the New Testament.

Our Christian tradition makes it easier to see some things than others. Let us not abandon other commandments of God. And Let us remember that working these out requires a framework of tradition, doctrine and ritual.

Things get worse for the Pharisees as Jesus spells out why he has quoted Isaiah. He suggests that their specific traditions get in the way of God’s commands. He mentions the idea of ‘corban‘ in which something could be set apart for God. The specific issues seem to be that some where giving land and wealth, made ‘corban‘, to the religious leaders. In doing so, some then deprived their parents of the support that was their due in old age, according to the Law.

Then Jesus gets to the revolutionary bit. Jesus’s comments about the human heart, our insides, our outsides, and purity is both great teaching, spells out a bigger problem—a problem for everyone.

With reference to our basic bodily functions, Jesus explains that what we eat cannot make us unclean. This even transforms some of the commandments of the Law. This is a trajectory that enables God’s people to eat screech owl and even pig should they wish to. The repercussions of this took years to work out after Jesus death hence the editorial note in verse 19.

The counterpoint to this is that we know a person’s heart by their fruit. There is that horrible list: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. Jesus and the Pharisees are on common ground with this list. They can also agree on its root cause.

Jesus and the Pharisees agreed on ample evidence from the Scriptures that the heart is the underlying problem:

  1. God judges people on the basis of their heart, ‘for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart’ (1 Samuel 16:7, NRSV).
  2. The law acknowledges the problem of the uncircumcised heart (Leviticus 26:41).
  3. Proverbs 20:9 puts the issue as a rhetorical question: “Who can say, “I have made my heart clean; I am pure from my sin”?”

Why does he tell them what they already know? The problem is that human effort, via traditions, cannot deal with the sinful heart that we each have. Not even God’s commandments can do this. They might be a helpful bandage or provide palliative care, but they do not deal with a sinful heart. This is a bigger problem than ritual impurity over the lack of hand-washing…

 

June 12, 2020

How Can Your Righteousness Surpass the Pharisees?

NIV.Matt.5v17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. 19 Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses* that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.

by Ruth Wilkinson

In order to know how to “exceed,” we need to first know what the benchmark is that we are exceeding. What is the righteousness of the Pharisees?

Pharisaic righteousness was (and is today for observant Jews) rooted in the Law of Moses which lays out the standards of behaviour that God expects from those with whom He has made a covenant. Over several centuries, the Pharisees preserved and promulgated this intricately detailed Law, desiring to bring God’s people through to the day of its fulfillment when the righteous would be raised up in vindication, ending Israel’s exile and oppression.

Devout Pharisees were community leaders, steeped in learning and in the nuance of God’s will. Faithful Jews would have followed their example, and turned to them for teaching.

How should we understand what it means to exceed the righteousness of such people?

One possible interpretation flows from the common translation of ερισσεύω into the English equivalent “to exceed.” For many English speakers, this word appears most often in contexts like “to exceed the speed limit.” In other words, to go beyond: to find new ways in which to be righteous, to out-righteous the Pharisees, to be holier than they.

This may have been what the rich young man in Luke 18:18-24 had in mind. He approached Jesus asking what he needed to do in order to inherit eternal life and, in Jesus’ words, “enter the Kingdom of God.” He asked this in spite of his own belief that he had kept the Law, an assertion that Jesus did not refute.

Neither did Jesus challenge the young man’s adherence to such minutiae as tithing on “mint and dill,”1 or his keeping of the “least commandment,” as opposed to the greater statutes the young man cites.

Instead, Jesus takes the conversation in a completely different direction—one not of greater adherence, or of more detail, but of the unknown and starting over.

Jesus isn’t impressed by his crossing of t’s and dotting of i’s and certainly shows no desire to engage that debate or to add new rules to the existing ones.

A second interpretation could arise from the Pharisees’ temporal understanding of what they were doing. The righteousness of Jesus’ followers could be seen as more enduring in time than that of the Pharisees.
Their persistence in keeping the Law had in mind the goal of bringing Israel to the time of fulfillment: the Day of the Lord, when the righteous would no longer have to strive, but “sit encrowned and enjoy the splendor of the Shekinah.” At that point, the Law would no longer be required.

The righteousness that Jesus endorses seems to have more lasting implications. He points us not only toward a “perfection” like His own, but further forward to our being made “a kingdom and priests” who will actively “reign on the Earth” alongside Christ himself (Revelation 5:10).

In addition, we are no longer waiting for that fulfillment, but we’re taking part in it now. At His baptism, Jesus declares that He is “fulfilling all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15). By this, He doesn’t just mean that he’s meeting personal requirements, but that He’s standing in the place of Israel, taking on the burden of her broken covenant.

A third point of comparison is that Jesus calls out the Pharisees for being ὑποκριτής (those who pretend) and σκανδαλίζω (causing to stumble) both indirectly (Matthew 5:19) and in no uncertain terms (Matthew 23:13 ff). He accuses them of attending to external details, making good impressions, and hiding their internal falsity: of doing rather than being.

Jesus extends His standards deeper by pointing to the heart as the seat of murder, adultery, truth-telling, and acts of grace or revenge. This echoes back to Amos 5 and Micah 6 where God rejects the religious observances of people who have lying tongues and deceitful hearts.

Jesus’ righteousness isn’t simply behaviour, but it flows outward from a heart that has been made clean and surrendered to God.

The final option for identifying Jesus’ “exceeding righteousness” is that it is Himself.

The Pharisees pursued righteousness through studying and keeping the Law. But in Christ, the Law is fulfilled and made complete. “But now, apart from the law, God’s righteousness has been revealed—attested by the Law and the Prophets —that is, God’s righteousness through faith in Jesus Christ, to all who believe, since there is no distinction” (Romans 3:21, 22, HCSB). The Law cannot provide for righteousness, but faith in Christ can and does. He himself is our righteousness when we live following Him. No matter how we try or for how long, we cannot achieve righteousness. In fact, if we could, then Christ died for nothing (Galatians 2:19-21, HCSB).

The Pharisees took on themselves the responsibility of living lives of righteousness, setting themselves up as arbiters of what was right. Instead, Jesus sets aside nuance and detail and tells us to enter the Kingdom as a child (Mark 10:13-16): as with the rich young man, dependent and trusting.

Although this last interpretation is the one that carries the most weight in light of the whole New Testament, I think it most applicable in context of Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount to focus on the third option: Jesus expects us to allow our righteousness to flow out from hearts that are pure. The Sermon, while it contains some inspirational, encouraging passages and some that promise hard times, provides a very practical foundation for a life lived in imitation of Christ: one of an internal, heart-focused view of oneself and how we are to live with and toward each other.


*exceeds (many translations); is more than (AMP); is greater than (CSB, CEB); do it more faithful (Good News); goes beyond (NET); are more right with God (NLV); more pure and full of integrity (TPT); goes deeper (Voice); do it far better (Message).

February 20, 2020

Extra Rules from Jesus?

by Clarke Dixon

Do you have the rules and commandments given by Jesus memorized yet? Jesus tells us we are to have a righteousness that exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 5:20. So on top of the Old Testament law we get extra rules as Jesus followers, right? For example, within the Old Testament there are rules about adultery, but now with Jesus we have a rule about lust as well:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. Matthew 5:27-28 (NRSV)

Is that what righteousness that exceeds that of the Scribes and Pharisees looks like? Extra rules? Actually, no.

We can be meticulous in keeping the rules, yet still miss the mark. Let me give an example. Suppose my wife gives me plans to build a vehicle. Being an avid motorcyclist, I begin building a motorcycle. I pay careful attention to the instructions on making wheels, brakes, electrical components, and most importantly, engine components. Since the instructions are excellent, and I follow them meticulously, the motorcycle I build is excellent. However my wife is not happy. She tells me to look at the plans again, but this time take a step back and look at the big picture. I have been too focused on the little details to do that. Taking a step back, and taking in the big picture, I see my mistake. These were plans for a mini-van! We have a family to cart around. Oops, I missed the bus!

We can be super meticulous in keeping the rules, yet we don’t become the kind of people God is calling us to become. We ‘miss the mark,’ which is what one of the words used in the Bible for ‘sin’ literally means. We can become so mired in the details of religion, that we miss the big picture of what God has in mind, what is on God’s heart.

Jesus is not giving us new rules in his teaching, but rather is deepening our understanding of the kind of people God is looking for us to become. Continuing on in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, God is calling each of us to become . . .

  • the kind of person who does not blow their top at others. (See verses 21,22)
  • the kind of person who always seeks reconciliation, who seeks to have good relationships. (See verses 23-26)
  • the kind of person who gives their best to their spouse, in devotion and faithfulness. (see verses 27-32)
  • the kind of person who does not objectify others. (see again verses 27,28)
  • the kind of person who is honest and walks in integrity. (see verses 33-37)
  • the kind of person who handles offence with generosity. (see verses 38,39)
  • the kind of person who goes above and beyond in relationships, who goes above and beyond in making things right, who goes above and beyond in helping someone in need, who is generous, and who serves others. (See verses 40-42)
  • the kind of person who loves people like God loves people. (See verses 43-48)

Jesus is that kind of person! Jesus calls you to be that kind of person. It is not about the rules. It is about you and the kind of person you are.

Suppose you adopt a dog, and the adoption agency asks you to agree to a set of rules. You commit to walking the dog, feeding the dog, watering the dog, and keeping up with medications. You could keep all those rules, yet still be an awful dog owner. There is something lacking in the relationship, like; affection, time spent, and playfulness. Something is missing – you are! Your heart is not in it, and the dog knows that. That can happen with a strict rule-focused style of Christianity. Something is missing – you are! The rules are there because they will help the dog stay healthy. However, the dog needs more than your performance of the rules, the dog needs you. The dog needs you to be a certain kind of dog owner. My wife and children need more than my attention to the rules. They need me. They need me to be the kind of person who is an engaged husband and father. The people in our lives need more than scribes or Pharisees who can quote Scripture from memory. They need us! They need us to be the kind of people God is calling us to be, the kind of people God is helping us to become.

To change to an analogy from sports; God, the coach, is not looking for players who are fanatical about the rules. He is looking for players who score goals while being respectful of the rules. He wants people who are engaged in His Kingdom purposes in the world. The best way to keep the rules is live alone and stay at home. If we are followers of Jesus, we will follow him into the world where being the kind of person God is calling us to become will make a difference in the lives of others.

Our aim is to be Christ followers. Our aim is not to become Christian Pharisees. We want to be followers of Jesus, not scribes & Pharisees who have traded in Jewish rules for Christian ones, yet have still missed the mark. If we do that, then our righteousness has not surpassed that of the scribes and Pharisees, it is really no different.

We can be fanatical about the commands of Jesus yet miss the mark. When we lean into the teaching of Jesus, we see the kind of people God is calling us to become. When God leans into us, through the power of the Holy Spirit, we become that kind of people.


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Ontario, Canada. Today’s article continues a series on The Sermon on the Mount. He appears here most Thursdays. You’ll also find these articles at his blog.

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